Dortmund (Germany) (AFP) – Injured Manuel Neuer was named in Germany’s extended 27-man World Cup squad for Russia 2018, despite not playing since September, as political frictions threw a shadow over Tuesday’s announcement.
Both midfielders Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan are included despite triggering friction between Berlin and Ankara after the Premier League stars posed for pictures with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London.
“From the DFB’s perspective, it has been made clear that it was not a good decision, but I didn’t think of leaving them out for a second,” said Germany head coach Joachim Loew.
“I have a bit of understanding that two hearts beat in the chests of players with an immigration background.
“They have have expressed regret and done a lot for integration in Germany.”
There was more political activity as hosts Russia granted a World Cup visa to German journalist Hajo Seppelt, who had been banned from the finals after he broke the story on the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal.
– No room for Goetze –
However, Loew’s top concern is whether his captain and goalkeeper Neuer will be fit for the World Cup finals, which kick-off on June 14.
The 32-year-old Bayern Munich star has not played for eight months with a fractured foot.
He has been named amongst four goalkeepers, one of whom will be cut for the final 23-man squad which must be named by June 4.
Neuer must now prove his fitness at a fortnight-long training camp in northern Italy, which starts on Tuesday.
“Manuel is getting back into full training this week at Bayern Munich, that assures us that he can tolerate the full load in the training camp,” explained Loew.
“Then we want to get a full idea, talk to him frankly and honestly, asking ‘is it possible to play at the World Cup?'”
“We have to decide whether Neuer is able to put in his top performances.
“I don’t think it is possible to go into a World Cup without playing practice.”
There is no place in Loew’s squad for Mario Goetze, who scored the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup finals, after an erratic season at Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s definitely not been his season. He has huge qualities, but isn’t in form,” explained Loew.
“Personally, I feel sorry for him and it was a hard decision.”
– Petersen surprise –
However, Loew pulled a surprise by handing a first call-up to Freiburg striker Nils Petersen, 29, the top-scoring German in the Bundesliga this season with 15 goals.